A lot goes into air quality. Air is something we all need every minute of our lives yet we only think about it when something goes wrong, a respiratory condition, a skunk in the yard, or hurricane force winds letting the air redistribute our wealth. Here in the US, an Air Quality Index has been devised based on the amount of five major pollutants in the air. This week, particle pollution was the culprit. Smoke, after all, is a group of tiny particles. Like fine dust or mist, smoke is easily inhaled and is therefore a concern to those of us who breathe.
Even healthy people with no respiratory trouble at all had runny noses and itchy eyes this week… or was it itchy noses and runny eyes? I think I had all four. So just imagine the impact it had on people with conditions like asthma or COPD or symptoms of covid-19. That’s why the color coded levels of concern in the Air Quality Index (AQI) include one that’s orange, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, and one that’s red, Unhealthy (for everyone). We spent time in both of those last week. Above that, the AQI has a purple level for Very Unhealthy and maroon for Hazardous. Don’t breathe the maroon air. On the brighter side, we spend most of our Teton Valley lives in the green Good level or once in a while when there is a long lasting inversion that traps air in the valley for days, we may inch up to the yellow Moderate air quality level. Finding ourselves in the Unhealthy zone here is almost exclusively a summer fire season phenomenon.
I mentioned that particles like smoke are just one of five pollutants that can affect the Air Quality Index. The others are surface ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide. That reads like the ingredient list on some labels I’ve read lately, but luckily, those tend to be pollutants in more densely populated areas than here in Teton Valley. Remember, though, that air moves around the planet all the time, so what goes around comes around, even here eventually.
So when you see an Air Quality Alert issued and they mention the Air Quality Index, if it’s Teton Valley it’s probably smoke and it’s probably one of the Unhealthy levels, orange or red. Depending on your situation and your ability to take precautions as recommended in the alert, take care of yourself so you can enjoy easier breathing on a better day.